We’ve all been part of or heard conversations like this:
Sally: I was pulling out my summer clothes last night and I can’t believe nothing fits! My love handles have gotten out of control. I look awful!
Jane: I know what you mean. I did that last week, and my arms look terrible in my tank tops!
Joe: I look worse than either of you! I need to shape my arms, get some abs, and fill out my thighs a little more.
This is an example of “fat talk.” It’s any type of talk that leads to a person to think or feel negatively about how their body is shaped. It can lead to poor self-esteem, eating disorders, and a distorted view of a woman’s or man’s body.
Fat talk has been described as contagious, dangerous, and outright demeaning. One study even found that in a survey of college-aged students, 93% admitted to engaging in fat talk.
Researchers have learned that this type of talk is not generally how the person feels about their bodies but how they are expected to feel about their bodies. Engaging in negative self-talk reflects the labels society puts on how we look or how we are expected to look.
Why would people do this? Research has shown that women and men engage in this type of talk to see what others will say about them, to make themselves feel better, or to make others feel worse.
It’s a treacherous mind game that can lead down a dark path, with effects lasting a lifetime! So how do we break the cycle?
- Don’t engage. Say no to negative self-talk and make it a rule that you won’t engage. If someone starts saying what they hate about their appearance, ask what they think the most beautiful part of their body is. Celebrate those things rather than focusing on the negative.
- Confront the messages in the media. Ask yourself if the messages you see are realistic. Show your commitment to promoting a positive body image by being critical of these messages. Use critical thinking to examine what you see, and be realistic about how the images got that way.
- Practice self-awareness. Learning to recognize the first signs of negative self-talk allows you to steer the conversation in a positive direction, ending the cycle before it even begins.
- Celebrate all the positives about yourself — and help others do the same! This is important. When you focus on your good qualities, you crowd out self-defeating thoughts. Make sure your friends know how much you appreciate them, and why.
We can all do something about negative self-talk, and it starts with YOU! Be a role model for someone else: When you hear the talking start, stand up to it. Small changes can lead to a movement in putting a stop to negative body image and dysmorphia.